FAA Violations Found During Flight 5191 Investigations

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We still don’t know why the captain of the Comair jet that crashed Sun., Aug. 27, 2006, in Lexington, Ky., taxied his plane to a wrong, and fatally short, runway. But we do know now the control tower was not properly staffed.

Could another set of eyes have saved the 49 lives?

CNN has learned that when Comair flight 5191 crashed after taking the wrong runway there was only one air traffic controller on duty, a violation of FAA policy. We’ve also learned that they started out in the wrong airplane.

Nine months ago, the FAA ordered the tower at Lexington, Ky., to be staffed by a minimum of two controllers. One to handle radar, the other to guide traffic on the ground. Instead the controller on duty before dawn on that fatal Sunday was doing both jobs alone.

According to Federal Crash Investigators, the controller last saw the Comair jet on the taxiway in front of the tower and was not watching the ill-fated takeoff. He turned around to perform administrative duties in the tower.

The FAA only allows for a single controller in Lexington, Ky., if radar duties are turned over to air traffic control in Indianapolis, Ind. That did not happen. But sources tell CNN that even with two controllers in the tower there would have been no guarantee the deadly disaster could have been averted.

Officials now say most of the 49 killed, died of blunt force trauma. Family members of the lone survivor, First Officer James Polehinke, released a statement.

“We would particularly like to extend our heartfelt thank you to the city of Lexington and its public safety officials, especially Lexington Police Officer Brian Jarred and Blue Grass Airport Safety Officers John Selin and James Maupin whose heroic efforts saved Jimmy’s life.”

The NTSB allowed cameras to the scene of the crash. Pictures show the aircraft coming to rest in an area of tall grass and weeds. Large pieces of the plane were severely burned by the intense fire after impact.

According to the NTSB, turning onto the wrong runway was not the first mistake the crew made that morning. Upon arriving at the airport, the captain and first officer entered and turned on power in the wrong plane. A ramp worker alerted them to the mistake.

The NTSB will continue to reconstruct the activities and behavior of the crew in the 72 hours leading up to the crash. The Fayette County Coroner says he’s not sure when all 49 bodies will be identified.